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Sunday, 18 February 2018

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Cotopaxi Hosts Ecuador’s First-Ever Special Olympics School Competition

By Esther Clark


On 30 May 2017, under Quito’s famously blue sky, over 70 student athletes participated in Ecuador’s first ever Special Olympics Schools Competition. The soccer tournament, hosted by Academia Cotopaxi American International School in partnership with Special Olympics in Ecuador, brought together athletes with and without special needs, as well as energetic supporters, volunteers, and fans, for an inspiring day celebrating sport and inclusion.

Athletes from seven local school teams enjoyed a very special morning that involved sport, competition, friendship, and working towards the same objective: inclusion and respect for people with special needs. The tournament also involved an important student volunteer component: over 50 Academia Cotopaxi student volunteers participated alongside the athletes in various roles, from unified players playing on the field with Special Olympics athletes to being referees, DJs, and Masters of Ceremony.

Bringing Special Olympics to the community in a school setting was something that the Learning Support department at Academia Cotopaxi had been interested in doing for several years. The idea came to fruition after the Head of School, Madeleine Maceda Heide, along with the Learning Support Coordinator, Jackie Wyncoll, in collaboration with various school directors worked with the Special Olympics organization in Ecuador to put the wheels in motion.

After a year of conversations and valuable support from community members and the Physical Education (PE) department, PE Teacher Danielle Taylor led the coordination of the inaugural games. With prior experience in Adapted PE and Special Olympics in California, Ms. Taylor believes that the tournament is a way to get “students leading students, building meaningful relationships, breaking down stereotypes, and creating a community of inclusion.”

One of the highlights for Jackie Wyncoll and the Learning Support team was the Opening Ceremony, featuring a parade of athletes. “Watching Special Olympics athletes and Unified soccer players march in together, carrying their school banner while the Olympic music played, with huge smiles and even some tears, was really special to see. Our very own Academia Cotopaxi Special Olympics athlete Paola was the Olympic torch bearer and she marched with such pride and determination and showed such happiness as she led the parade.”

Special Olympics (“Olimpiadas Especiales” in Spanish) was established 38 years ago in Ecuador with the aim to improve the quality of life of people with special needs through sports by organizing local and international games. Ecuador is part of the 50-year-old Special Olympics organization that was started in the United States by the Shriver–Kennedy family and is now present worldwide.

The genesis of Special Olympics was a summer day camp President John F. Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, started in the backyard of their Maryland home. Since then, Special Olympics has grown to become the largest program of its kind. As the international school in Quito, and in line with its mission to serve a diverse international learning community, Academia Cotopaxi is thrilled to champion the Schools Competition and has plans for two more tournaments during the upcoming 2017–18 school year.

“Our objective is to cultivate in our community an increased level of appreciation for students with special abilities,” stated Madeleine Maceda Heide, Academia Cotopaxi Director. From the sheer number of student and parent “fans in stands,” collaboration from faculty, staff, students, and the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), as well as the overwhelming positive response from both school and local community, the Special Olympics Schools Competition is positioned to become one of the most inspiring sports events to take place in Ecuador.

Academia Cotopaxi is honored to be a part of this event and to promote a spirit of community, inclusion, diversity, and sport in schools and in Ecuador.

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